How One’s “Worst Sinner” Status Affects Results of Pastoral Counseling Situations

February 21, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

I’d originally posted this as a series of comments under the previous post, but I think it needs more air time:

Awhile back, someone – and for the life of me, I can’t remember precisely who – posted a very insightful comment about Noel’s story and why it seems that SGM pastors tend to side with the perps more than the victims.  I just spent several minutes searching through the old comments in a vain attempt to find the particular one I’m thinking of, but since it’s not coming up easily, I’ll see if I can try to recapture what the person wrote, because I really believe that they were onto something.

Deeply embedded in the SGM mindset are some assumptions:

1. All sins are just as vile in the eyes of God.

2. One of the clearest signs of “rebellion” is when a person sees himself as an injured party, because no injury that can be perpetrated against the person could ever surpass the horror that the person’s own sin is in the eyes of God.

3. The clearest sign of a “repentant” person is eager confession of wrongdoing.

Taking those three SGM assumptions, let’s examine Noel’s pastors’ response to her family’s situation. In light of these assumptions, I think we can more clearly understand a bit of what went through those pastors’ minds as they offered more sympathy and support to the perp rather than the victims. Even though the pastoral responses are basically incomprehensible to a normal person, they sort of start to make sense when you think of it in this way:

Because of SGM’s belief that each of us must always be “the worst sinner that we ourselves know,” we basically give up our rights to ANY victimhood, no matter how heinous the crime committed against us.

In other words, even though what happened to Noel’s family was absolutely horrific, SGM’s foundational teachings would say that Noel’s only legitimate “biblical” response would be to examine her own sinfulness and see herself as “the worst sinner” she knows. Her pastors would see it as their duty to direct Noel’s attention first of all to her own indwelling sin, her own wretchedness in God’s eyes. I believe they sincerely think that this is “bringing the Gospel into” everything they do. For them, “the Gospel” is firstly and foremostly about our own sin.

But instinctively, we know that something is jacked up in this view. God’s own Word would tell us that He does see some sins as having broader and more lasting consequences than other sins. Yes, all sin is an abomination in God’s eyes…theoretically. But we all know the REALITY, that if I go out and kill someone, there are far more ramifications all the way around than if I lie by calling in sick to work one day when I’m not actually sick and just want to go shopping with my friends. Both the murder and the lie are sins in God’s eyes and both are wretched, but if you lie to me, I’m probably going to be less upset than if you kill someone near and dear to me.

In SGMville, though, this normal human reaction – one that the even the Bible would seem to support, if you examine how God outlined so many very specific laws and guidelines governing behavior for Old Testament Israel – is circumvented. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been the victim of a liar or a murderer. In your SGM pastor’s mind, you’ve got NO RIGHT to see yourself as a victim, of any sort. In order to “bring the Gospel in,” they’re duty-bound to remind you of your own sinfulness, like it’s some sort of tonic for the normal grief that you might feel because of the ramifications of the sin that was perpetrated against you…like somehow, if I as the victim can just focus on my own badness, I’ll forget that someone molested my child.

So OK. In SGMville, all sins are created equal.

Now, enter the perp. Perp expresses sorrow and remorse for his sin. He truly IS the “worst sinner that he knows,” so such a mindset comes easily and naturally to him. In the eyes of his SGM pastors, he automatically then becomes the “more righteous” person, since his response is the only “truly biblical” repsonse that they can find acceptable.

It gets worse if the victim stands up for himself/herself in any fashion. SGM pastors immediately see this as unforgiveness, which of course is a sin, which then makes the victim even WORSE than the remorseful (and therefore righteous) perp.

Again, I did not think of this myself. Someone else initially posted these general thoughts. But I thought these were some brilliant observations that did far more to shed light on Noel’s pastors’ really twisted and bizarre behavior than just about anything else.

To me, this helps to make sense of why, in SGMville, the victims are minimized while the perps are protected. It’s because in SGMville, the only thing that is really righteous is seeing oneself as “the worst sinner one knows.” If one has had a crime – particularly a heinous crime like child abuse – perpetrated against one, there is NO HONEST WAY that one can authentically and enthusiastically embrace “worst sinner” status in one’s thinking. One instinctively knows that someone else’s sin (in this case, one’s perp’s sin) is greater than one’s own sin. So one naturally raises objections to embracing “worst sinner” status.

SGM pastors sense this and seem to hone in on it, interpreting standing up for oneself as a sign of pride and sin and unforgiveness.

Meanwhile, the perp is over in his corner crying his genuine tears of sorrow. Because he truly IS the “worst sinner he knows” at that moment, he is more righteous, and hence more worthy of protection.

*****

To clarify, I’m not saying that I personally saw the perp in Noel’s case as having demonstrated “godly sorrow.” Actually, as has been pointed out, we pretty much KNOW that he didn’t fully come clean, especially at the beginning. But because a confession of sin – ANY confession of sin – is “more righteous” in a Sovereign Grace pastor’s eyes than someone who calls attention to another person’s sin, the perp was viewed as behaving “more biblically” than Noel and Griz.

*****

I’m also not saying that I necessarily disagree with EVERYTHING that is present in the SGM view.

I believe that the Bible actually would lead us to a place in our thinking where *ULTIMATELY* (with the emphasis on “ULTIMATELY”!) we would move past our “victimhood” status and reach a place where the wrongs perpetrated against us do not matter to us anymore in light of God’s great forgiveness and grace.

But again – the key word is “ultimately”!

See, a particular outcome (such as true forgiveness when one has been the victim of a crime) can be the “biblical” and desired outcome…one to be sought after diligently and prayed for. BUT, I’d hope that we’d agree that at least a part of this process belongs to the Holy Spirit’s enabling the victim to reach this place.

And I think that there’s been a very crude element at work among some SGM pastors who do not understand that the “fruits of the Spirit” are just that – FRUITS. They see themselves as having some sort of drill sargeant “Junior Holy Spirit” role (thanks, commenter Nancy Drew from the site’s early days for coming up with that one!) in this process. They think that they can urge and coax certain behaviors by being all hardline when they “counsel” people.

But if you think about it, standing in an apple orchard and yelling at the apple tree isn’t going to do a bloomin’ thing to make the apples grow any faster. SGM pastors need to ditch this faulty thinking and open their hearts and do the TRULY Scriptural thing when faced with members who have been victimized in some way – they need to “mourn with those who mourn” and trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in His time.